Two years after March 11, 'Football, Take Me Home' tries to share the story of Vegalta Sendai with the world

On the eve of the disaster's second anniversary, director Doug Hurcombe sat with Goal Asia to discuss his project and what Vegalta means to him as well as the people of Sendai
By Dan Orlowitz

Two years after the tragic events of March 11, many of the affected areas of Eastern Japan have taken great steps in the rebuilding process, while others have struggled to recover what has been lost not only physically, but emotionally as well.

Situated on Japan's eastern coast, Miyagi prefecture took a direct hit from the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and the ensuing tsunami. Thousands of lives were lost, and tens of millions were forcibly displaced or otherwise affected by the disaster in this aftermath.

But through the grief of loss came a new-found sense of community, and perhaps nowhere could that be felt as deeply as in the prefectural capital of Sendai, home to the J-League's Vegalta Sendai. It's a story that Football, Take Me Home director Doug Hurcombe wants to tell.

What happened with the earthquake was that it pushed the community and the club closer together, and they ran with it, and they both embraced it.

-Take Me Home director Doug Hurcombe

"What happened with the earthquake was that it pushed the community and the club closer together," Hurcombe told Goal Asia on March 10, one day before the second anniversary of the disaster. "And they ran with it, and they both embraced it."

"They needed something strong and passionate, who was going to be a voice and give them a focus and the club rose to that magnificently. The fans inspired it and they drove it and they pushed it and they put out banners and yelled at them when they needed it. It was all of them working in harmony."

In the aftermath of the disasters, the club found themselves without either a training ground or a stadium; the former had been submerged in the floods while Sendai Stadium would require repairs. When the J-League resumed its season after a six-week pause, Vegalta found themselves on the road at Kawasaki Frontale. Thousands of travelling supporters made the trip, unfurling a banner reading, "Thank you for all our friends, we won't lose until we regain our home town."

Vegalta dramatically won that match with a late 2-1 result; it was the first of a miraculous 11-game unbeaten streak that greatly contributed to their fourth-place finish. They followed up in 2012 with a runners-up performance that ensured the side of their first Asian Champions League berth.

A life-long Tottenham Hotspur supporter, Hurcombe began to follow the club's story in the days following March 11 after seeing video of Vegalta supporters singing John Denver's 'Take Me Home, Country Roads.' With the cooperation of both the club and the J-League, Hurcombe and his team plan on returning to Sendai later this month to interview players, coaches, and supporters.

"To me, making this film is a way of expressing the effort and the community spirit that's achieved things like Sendai have done"
- Doug Hurcombe

"To me, making this film is a way of expressing the effort and the community spirit that's achieved things like Sendai have done," he continues. "It's a way of showing not the plucky Japanese underdogs, but saying that this is what we can all achieve. Anyone can do this by just working together."

That sense of community is not only present in the trailer for the film, but also via a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter that is raising both short-term funding and long-term awareness for the project.

"One way or another we're going to make this film work, because it's a story that we're all committed to personally and financially as well as with our enthusiasm and passion and love," the director explains. "But one of the things that we wanted to do was to allow that opportunity for word to get out. And it has been very successful on this side.

"One nice thing that's spun off [from the Kickstarter campaign] is that we've got new information and new stories to look at, and some very intense stories have come out from people wanting to help.

"[Right now] we're just riding that wave of enthusiasm; whether people can afford to pay in these times, that's just life. As film-makers it's up to us to work out how to do what we want to do.”

But if anything shines through as much as Hurcombe’s passion for telling the story of Vegalta, it’s his respect for a J-League that is celebrating its 20th anniversary this season.

"[The J-League] is a young league; it's finding its identity and finding its strength and it's incredibly strong for the age that it is," he says. "They have a 100-year program and they're on target for it, and it will be led by teams like Vegalta where the community gets behind [their club]."

Readers can contribute to the Kickstarter campaign for Football, Take Me Home here

Follow the progress of Football, Take Me Home through the film's official website and on Twitter